This is a chapter of Scripture that oftentimes leaves people scratching their heads. We initially think to ourselves, isn’t striking someone dead for trying to steady the Ark of God a bit extreme? This goes against the grain of our thinking. We would never invent such a god because it isn’t very “nice” we think. But as Christians we are to think biblically, so let’s seek to do that now.
David gathering 30,000 men seems a bit excessive to bring the Ark of God to the city of David, Jerusalem, unless of course he suspected another Philistine attack. After all, the Philistines didn’t really learn their lesson the first time and came back for another whipping, perhaps they were hard-headed (see 2 Sam. 5:17-25). But the number 30,000 is also significant because that is the number of Israelites who died in a previous battle with the Philistines when the Ark of God was captured (see 1 Sam. 4:10-11). It is now a reversal of that dreaded defeat for “David and the house Israel were celebrating before Yahweh, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (2 Sam. 6:5).
You can picture this being a beautiful sunny day and the music and celebration in the air, what could possibly go wrong? 2 Samuel 6:3-4, 6-7, “And they carried the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the Ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark…And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the Ark of God.” That sort of puts a damper on the celebration, and it did for David who named the place Perez-Uzzah “because Yahweh had broken out against Uzzah” (2 Sam. 6:8). Notice that when Yahweh defeated the Philistines in 2 Samuel 5 the name of the place was Baal-perazim because, “Yahweh has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood” (v. 20). Yahweh broke out against the Philistines and later against Uzzah, and the Israelites, who were acting like Philistines.
Listen to these several verses from Numbers 4 that tell us about the duties of the Kohathites. The Kohathites were descendants of Levi and were not given an inheritance of land since God was their inheritance. Serving Him in their various duties was a great honor they received. Numbers 4:4, 15, 17-20 tell us, “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things…And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry…The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.’” In summary: do not touch, do not look, and do not use a cart (aka carry).
Uzzah was a son of Abinadab who must have been a member of the Kohathite clan since they were responsible for carrying the Ark of God. He would be well aware of his duties according to Numbers 4 (see also Num. 7:9). Uzzah and company put the Ark of God on a new cart even though they were to carry it with poles (see Ex. 25:13-14; Num. 7:9). The careful Bible reader might object here and say, why didn’t the Philistines get struck dead for sending the ark back to Israel with a cart (see 1 Samuel 5-6)? The Philistines were not in covenant with God and therefore lacked the precepts and rules which God gave to Israel. God showed them mercy that time (see 1 Sam. 5), for their ignorance, though He wasn’t required too. This wasn’t Uzzah’s only wrong move. When the oxen stumbled, which shouldn’t be a factor since the Ark of God shouldn’t be carried on a cart by oxen in the first place, Uzzah reaches out and touches the Ark of God and is struck dead for sinning against Yahweh! Uzzah would know that he could not touch the Ark of God, even if it was a natural instinct when something is falling. How often do you try to justify your sin before God? “I had the best intentions and didn’t mean to disobey.” Any such reasoning doesn’t pass in God’s court for it doesn’t turn your disobedience into obedience.
Do you realize that every sin deserves death? Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” After working a job you receive wages (most of the time, shout out to moms!) for the hours that you worked. We also receive wages for the sin that we’ve committed, death. God is extremely merciful in not doing to us what He did to Uzzah, for that is what our sins deserve. Uzzah’s death should serve as a reminder to us all of the seriousness of sin, not only when we were unbelievers, but especially as believers too! Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, who has paid the penalty for our sins, and the sins of everyone who trusts in Him. As the rest of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [There is much more here in 2 Samuel 6, but we will have to leave that for another time].